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PortMiami tunnel digging reaches end of the line

The excavation of the PortMiami tunnel, which began in 2011, came to an end Monday morning when the gigantic digging machine that has been boring the dual-tube underwater traffic passage reached daylight on Watson Island.

“Harriet,” as the $45 million, German-built tunneling machine is known, was scheduled to complete the job about 8 a.m. Soon after, hundreds of workers will begin laying the pavement inside the tunnel.

The tunnel is intended to take cargo trucks off downtown streets and send them directly from Interstate 395 to the port. Currently, they rumble through the congested streets to reach the port.

Once the tunnel opens to traffic in May 2014, the trucks will have direct access to the port from expressways. Both Interstate 95 and State Road 836/the Dolphin Expressway link up to I-395.

The $1 billion tunnel is one three giant transportation projects under way in South Florida. The other two are the $1.8 billion reconstruction of Interstate 595 in Broward and the $2 billion Miami Intermodal Center (MIC), a major transportation hub just east of Miami International Airport.

Chris Hodgkins, vice president of Miami Access Tunnel, the multinational company that is building the tunnel, said Harriet has performed well.

“This big girl is tired,” he said. “She’s dirty, she’s worn, she’s missing a lot of her teeth. She wants to breathe some fresh air. She served us well, and she’s ready to call it a day.”

Harriet emerged at the port from the first leg of her journey from Watson Island on July 31, 2012, and was disassembled, turned around and reassembled for the return-trip excavation of the westbound tube, which began Oct. 29.

The machine will be disassembled and her parts will be recycled for future projects, Hodgkins said.

“When she breaks out, we start to dismantle it,” Hodgkins said. “Whatever can be saved will be saved, the electric motors, the hydraulics. But all other parts will be recycled for future projects or just recycled.”

While the boring is complete, work on the project will continue until next year. Workers still must build the roads inside the tubes, each of which will have two traffic lanes. Several passageways will connect the tubes for use in case of emergency and for maintenance.